In recent years, horse racing fans have followed the careers of champions like Cigar (winner of nearly $10 million) and 2006 Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro (whose injury in the Preakness Stakes just two weeks following his Derby win and unfortunate death in January 2007 led to considerable press coverage). However, many students of Thoroughbred racing history still regard Man o' War as the sport's all-time greatest.
Raised by famed Thoroughbred breeder August Belmont Jr., Man o' War was foaled on March 29, 1917. His sire was Fair Play, a premier stallion of the time, and his dam, Mahubah, was by the imported Rock Sand, a winner of England's Triple Crown and an important broodmare sire.
The chestnut colt sold at the 1918 Saratoga yearling sale for $5,000, a hefty sum considering the sale average was $1,038. Purchased by trainer Louis Feustel on behalf of Samuel D. Riddle's Glen Riddle Farm, Man o' War proved to be a challenge to break and train because of his nervous, spirited disposition, a trait likely inherited from his sire. His trainer's patience eventually prevailed, though, and the awkward young colt grew into his large frame, becoming a formidable athlete. "Big Red," as Man o' War became affectionately known, would be touted by his long-time groom, Will Harbut, as "just de mostest hoss," and rightfully so!
At ages two and three, Man o' War won twenty of twenty-one races, including the Keene Memorial, Youthful Stakes, Hudson Stakes, United States Hotel Stakes, Belmont Futurity, Preakness Stakes, Belmont Stakes, Travers Stakes, Jockey Club Stakes and the Kenilworth Park Gold Cup (a match race in which he beat Triple Crown winner Sir Barton). His career earnings totaled $249,465.
Following his illustrious racing career, Man o' War stood at stud at Faraway Farm in Lexington, Kentucky. As a breeding horse, he sired Triple Crown winner War Admiral, Kentucky Derby winner Clyde van Dusen and Belmont Stakes winners American Flag and Crusader. His son, Hard Tack, sired Seabiscuit, the 1938 U. S. Horse of the Year. In addition to successful runners on the oval, Man o' War sired Battleship, a winner of England's Grand National Steeplechase. Man o' War died at the age of 30 in 1947, a month after the death of Harbut, his groom.
This post card depicting Man o' War bears a 1947 postmark. Interestingly, it was in 1947 that Man o' War died. Though he did not run in the Kentucky Derby, Man o' War did win the Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes---two legs of what would become Thoroughbred racing's coveted Triple Crown.
A year after Man o' War's passing, a bronze sculpture of the horse by noted equestrian sculptor Herbert Haseltine (1877-1962) was placed at Faraway Farm as a memorial to the Thoroughbred legend. In 1977, both the grave and statue of Man o' War were relocated from Faraway to Lexington's Kentucky Horse Park where thousands of horse enthusiasts and curious tourists visit each year.